Cecilia Bartoli has been at the forefront of classical music for more than two decades. She's sold more than eight million CDs, won four Grammys and has been awarded two classical Brit awards. Ahead of her performance of ‘Sacrificium: The School of Castrati' at The Bridgewater Hall, the mezzo-soprano speaks about her concert and offers insights into the music of 18th century Naples…
In the digital age, what relevance do ancient operatic works have?
At the moment, the human soul needs more stimulation than ever before and operatic music can do this. Technology is only a tool that may or may not be used but is ultimately irrelevant in the process.
Many artists present a ‘greatest hits' approach to opera, Mozart, Verdi, the great arias and so on. Does this devalue opera?
No. It is like going for a private five course dinner in an elegant French restaurant or helping yourself at an exquisite buffet during a memorable wedding reception: it all depends on time and context.
How would you describe your programme at the Bridgewater Hall with its focus on 18th century Naples and the castrati?
It is the Michael Jackson experience of the 18th century: an emotional and breathtaking roller-coaster that arouses all your senses. Thanks to the historic context of the music, it leaves you questioning whether it was worth all the human sacrifice in order to end up with some sensational music.
Explain more about the ‘human sacrifice'.
The castrati where the pop stars of their age. They had super-human singing abilities, fame and glamour but it was the mystery surrounding their ambiguous sexuality which made people go mad. What we should not forget is that while the music written especially for them is wonderful, it was bought at the price of a great human sacrifice. For several centuries, 4000 boys a year were castrated in Italy and only very few became stars. It's comparable to our bulimic models – today's victims of frivolous fashion. Or the modern talent shows where mega-stars are created in five minutes and then dropped like hot potatoes. It really is a very modern theme.
How do you interact with the audience and is interaction with the audience even important?
The vibes that emanate from an audience are always perceptible and immensely important for the outcome of a concert. If they are attentive and moved, a kind of spiritual bond between performers and audience gets tied and you are joined in a common elation.
What for you is so appealing about opera and why should people come to the shows?
Everything I've already mentioned obviously comes about only during a live performance. It offers something that digital technology can never achieve.
via Cecilia Bartoli interview | Manchester Confidential
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.